By Brian Nagle (1997)
This year’s column is about old clothes, dining out, and romance –witten from one man’s point of view (mine, of course). This all started when I was standing on the supermarket checkout line and was forced to look at those magazines, the ones with the pictures of women on the covers that in polite company could only be described as looking like they were severely morally challenged. Yes, that’s right, you know the ones. Month after month they have articles that deal with sex, romance, killer something or other, and always, always, always, an article about men. Most of the writers of that stuff probably couldn’t even identify a man if they collectively fell over one, much less write about one.
First, let’s define our terms. The men I write about have to be old enough to have voted in at least three presidential elections, and have seen some of life’s ups and downs, experienced some rough weather on their decks and put a lot of water under their collective keels. Anyone younger or more blessed is a completely different breed of cat.
The topics of clothes and dining out and romance are areas where I have noticed that many women feel that the men in their lives are lacking. Ladies, they may not be lacking at all; it may be that you don’t understand the situation!
Let’s tackle this clothes thing first. Men hear complaints about the way they dress from cradle to grave. Mothers, teachers, aunts, etc. feel a duty to tug, pull, and push boys’ clothes around, complaining about pants being worn too low, being too short, shirts out of pants, innapropriate ensembles, etc. As men grow older the complaints continue but then it’s a different group of ladies that get the opportunity to criticize. Being an old guy, I’ve had time to give this a lot of thought, and I’ve come up with some conclusions.
1. If you want to make a man feel like he’s eight or ten years old, make some disparaging remark about his clothes.
2. If you want to fire a shell across your man’s bow (a well-known signal of intended hostile action), complain about his clothes.
3. God doesn’t make mistakes, and if God wanted men to wear pants higher, God would have put men’s hips four inches higher than he (or she, depending on your point of view) did.
Theme dressing: Many men dress in a way that could only be described as theme style (not to be confused with cream style, corny as this all may be). We’ve all known men who dress like they are ready to drive a herd of long horns up out of Texas, take an American sailing ship around Cape Horn, paddle across Canada’s Great Slave Lake, or like they are twelve year old boys again and are going out to play ball with the boys or help grandfather on the farm. Well, those are exactly the looks most of them are trying to achieve. A man’s interest in clothes, or apparent disinterest, is not always so easy for a woman to understand. Most men lead pretty routine lives. Theme dressing can signify a number of things to them:
1. It can make them feel that they did not sell out some of the ideas, hobbies, interests and dreams that they had when they were younger.
2. It can help maintain the illusion that age (like the grey hair) is not sneaking up on them.
3. It reminds them of happy events or times in their lives.
4. It can also be an act of defiance –‘This is who I am; take it or leave it.’
There’s a lot going on here with the male psyche and clothes. Sigmund Freud would probably have had a field day with the subject. Memories, dreams, ambitions, keeping the faith –wow, some pretty deep stuff. There’s more going on here than a crusty (possibly crazy) guy wearing strange clothing.
Advertisers, marketing to men, know all too well about the fantasy-adventure need. Marlboro cigarettes always has a cowboy in its ads. (How many unbreakable “habits” were formed because of the deeper need to ride north with the herd?) Old Spice has us on ‘ship that sails the ocean.’ (Yo Ho, Yo Ho…)
The next time you see a man driving one of those ‘classic’ motor cars, take a good look at the driver. I know, usually you try not to notice if one of those people pull up next to you, but it’s o.k., look. You’ll probably see someone that’s old enough to know better, someone that is definitely marching to his own drummer (or trying to), usually dressed in a non-mainstream way. You are looking at someone that you think may have different values and standards than most of us, someone who perhaps sees things a little differently than most of us. What you have seen is a true modern edition of Don Quixote with his version of Rocinante. Cervantes is generally credited with having created one of the most romantic figures in literature, but in truth the Don Quixote character has always been with us, and is with us still. The fellow in the antique car or the man dressed in theme style is every bit as misunderstood as Don Quixote. Whether or not he is currently tilting at windmills is not important. (He’s probably thinking about it.) Granted, it may not be everyone’s idea of romance, but it is his, and that makes it truly romantic. Romance is more than just sonnets, flowers, and haiku; romance is also the dream, even the impossible dream.
Ladies, if you want the men in your life to look different for a special event, say so. But work on it together. Try using magazine pictures. But remember, not everyone is comfortable with that slicked down G.Q. look. Believe it or not, some men would be mortified if they had to appear like that in public. After all, they have their self-image to maintain and, besides, it’s difficult to feel manly and mortified at the same time. We all know that although we men may be slaves to our images, most of us don’t have a problem with not being slaves to fashion. There is, however, a lot of room between the Peanuts character Pig Pen and the full-blown Rudolph Valnetino look.
Dining Out: In American society and culture, men and women have vastly different experiences. Most men have consumed more meals that could only be described as ‘inedible’ than anyone should have to eat. We endured yucky meals at camp, at school, s.o.s. et al in the military, at work, and on the road. Many of these meals were also eaten in terrible surroundings, terrible conditions (file the memories under ‘negative ambience’). Often there was no choice, and complaints would have led to even worse situations. So we developed survival skills –our own special set of rules. These rules will vary from individual to individual, but if you ask the men in your life about the bad meals they have eaten their way through and lived to tell the tale, they’ll likely tell some funny stories. Some of the general rules go like this: (1) Eat out of cans –less chance of anything going bad between can and mouth. (2) Eat only what has been wrapped at a factory. (3) Drink directly out of a can or bottle; the glass or cup is probably dirty. (4) Stay with brands you know have not made you sick in the past (here’s where the Skippy peanut butter, Dinty Moore stew, and Ritz crackers come in). For some men these are ‘feel good foods,’ reminding them of fun they may have had in their youth (any time up to yesterday). (5) Drink coffee instead of tea; there’s probably no place to put the teabag if you are drinking from a styrofoam cup.
There are also more advanced theories like the one that says that sauces and gravies are designed to mask the unaceptable food that is being foisted upon you. Then, there is the two second rule. If you can’t readily identify food by shape, color and smell in two seconds, you don’t eat it. I like to call these rules ‘Dietary rules for Manly People.’
Most women do not know what a blessing it is that they lack intimate knowledge of these rules. It is a sure sign that they did not have to develop these necessary survival skills.
I have noticed that women want to dine out to experience a change, possibly for adventure and even excitement (and, of course, to avoid cooking yet another meal for the men in their lives). Most men, because of their early experiences are full up in the adventurous dining out department; and, most men don�t have to crank out dinner after dinner at the ‘Cafe Cook-It-For-Him.’
Ladies, if you do want to go out to eat without a major battle, here are some ‘guy’ standards to guide you in your cause: (1) The company is most important –family, friends, etc. (and you thought we were unromantic). (2) The surroundings are secondary; familiar places with staff that is neither inept or pompous are always winners. (3) The food comes in a distant third, in most cases. Wolfgang Puck and food critics will never tell you that, and Cosmo will never write about it. (Most men’s basic food desires can probably be summed up as: Don’t want to get sick.)
Remember, our life experiences have shaped us, changed us. Most of us do things for definite reasons; we may be aware of the reasons, we may not. We may choose to share the reasons; then again, we may not. Yes ladies, we men are, after all, just misunderstood romantics.